Pat Sheridan is co-founder and managing partner of Modus Create, a product studio that helps companies turn product development into competitive advantage. Founded in 2011, Modus Create has been recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies in 2015 and 2016, helping firms such as UNIQLO and Genentech with digital transformation. An active member of the DCTech community, he is a frequent mentor for Lean Startup Machine and Startup Weekend events and co-organizer of the NoVa.JS and NYC.JS Meetups. He received his MBA from Georgetown University, where he is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and holds a BFA from the Corcoran College of the Arts and Design, where he serves on the strategic advisory council.
Tell me about your early career.
I did a lot of art and design freelancing in my early twenties and focused on large scale out door murals. I ended up working for a design architect for three years before jumping into a design leadership role in a startup in the late 90s. I was fortunate to find myself in roles where I was able to learn and be trusted with a decent amount of responsibility to deliver. I was lucky to have some very accomplished mentors early on who trained me on a way of approaching problems and designing solutions that continues to pay dividends in my career.
How did the concept for Modus Create come about?
After working in startups and consulting firms for ten years, I found myself gravitating towards open source software projects. I wanted to build a company based on the dynamics found in the open source world: outcome-oriented, highly distributed, talent first teams.
I saw many large companies struggling to adapt to a digital first economy and the related business model disruption it caused them. The opportunity existed for us to offer a blend of design thinking, emerging technology, and management consulting to bridge the gap in enterprise digital transformation.
How was the first year in business?
As a bootstrapped firm, our first year was an exciting roller coaster ride. We operated with no overhead and focused on adding one client and one employee at a time. We grew from one to ten employees and did about $1 million in revenue.
What was your marketing strategy?
Our strategy was (and is) to be active, visible, and relevant, in the emerging technology communities that our customer turn to for answers to difficult problems. We published two books, started several meetups on the east coast, and started a very popular engineering blog. We have strong technology channel partners that our services model complements nicely.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Faster than we expected or planned. We’ve grown at about a 50% compounded annual growth rate since founding and have been recognized on the Inc. 5000 every year since we became eligible.
How do you define success?
I used to think success was a finish line, but now I think of it as a “way” – a set of healthy habits and routines that increase your likelihood for growth, both personally and professionally.
What is the key to success?
Willpower, discipline, self-reliance, and a strong peer group.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Sacrifice is good when working on something important, but you have to know when to stop sacrificing and tend to the things you’ve abandoned during the pursuit.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“Follow your bliss, most men live lives of quiet desperation.”
“An engineer can do for $1 what any idiot can do for $2.”
“Always make decisions in the best interest of the business.”
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
A few years ago, we shut down a software product company we were spinning out of Modus and had two large clients fall way behind on their accounts. In a matter of days, my co-founder and I had to realign our core business for success. This required a series of hard transitions and staff changes that were great for the long-term success of the firm but very challenging to convey to staff on the ground.
All executive compensation and discretionary spending were suspended while we worked to resolve our cash flow and client receivables. Incorporating the learnings from that difficult time have paid huge dividends in the years since.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
How you respond to failure, and anger, dictates a lot about how much success you can achieve. I try to translate the anger or frustration into positive directions. I feel very strongly that you have to approach times of uncertainty very differently than those in which your goal is clear. You must work hard during down times to build strength for when your next opportunity presents itself.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t become a slave to your business – keep a great personal health and wellness routine and protect your time to recharge and stay connected to friends and family jealously.
Join a peer mentorship group to help you work through work/personal challenges and keep you honest.
Never stop learning. Share what you know. Stay open to new ideas.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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